49. Kick, One, Two, Three...

49. Kick, One, Two, Three...

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Kick, One, Two, Three . . .

The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.

~Carl Gustav Jung

The dance floor was empty. My group was up next. I took a deep breath and stepped into place with my fellow dancers. The better dancers stood in the front, but I didn’t care. I knew what I could do. The music started and I moved across the floor with confidence and grace. I understood the purpose of the dance and I showed the emotion on my face and let my body do the rest. As I took the last step, I held my arms beautifully curved at my sides, slightly in front of my belly. I’d done well.

I took my seat on the side of the stage and waited for the rest of the groups to finish their final routines. The dance instructor looked gruff as he made his way to the stage. He walked by all of us, with pompous disinterest, and then reversed his path and started to point out individuals.

“You. You. You. Jerry. Sue . . .” He went on. “If I just pointed to you . . . you can leave the stage. Thank you. Maybe I’ll see you at the next auditions.”

I was a little surprised that I was still on stage.

“The rest of you . . . we’ll see you here Monday night at 6:30 P.M.”

With that, I was cast in Can-Can, my forty-eighth show and thirty-ninth musical. For twenty-plus years, I’ve been a fat, funny, confident, character actress, paid singer and reluctant dancer. I wasn’t like other entertainers, I was me. I had a thick waist, flabby arms and a round face, but I was talented and that trumped all the negatives that society might throw at me.

On Monday as I sat in the theater waiting for the rest of the cast, staff, and directors to arrive I realized that the stage was my life. It was the one place where I thrived and was accepted for who I was. I was comfortable here; my talent could shine.

After the director arrived, his assistant handed out scripts and I discovered I was a chorus member, background dancer and bit character. Fine with me. That meant I was going to be seen throughout the entire show. Nice!

A week into rehearsals, we were working on two of the longer dances and I realized the director was following my every move. Fifteen minutes later, the director called the dance instructor over to talk. They both turned to look at me, they talked a little more and then I was called over. My heart stuck in my throat. Was I being released from the show?

“Candace, right?” the director said.

“Yes,” I said quietly.

“I hired you because I thought you’d be funny doing the can-can.”

He smiled. “What I didn’t expect is that you can actually dance.” He patted the instructor on the shoulder. “Davis is going to re-stage the dances and you’re going to be showcased. I have no doubt you can handle a full-fledged character dance.” He turned to Davis. “Have her ready by next Tuesday.”

For the next four days, I rehearsed and re-rehearsed the new steps. By Tuesday, I was ready. The music started and I was good and funny. All eyes were on me. The curvy girl showing all my fellow thespians that we have a place in this world.

Opening night was an explosion of emotions. I recalled all the staging, remembered all the lines and did all the dance steps perfectly. What I remembered most was the laughter. Guffaws for a comedic actor are the breaths of life, they’re what keep us going and make us want to do it again and again and again. I couldn’t wait to do it again the next day.

When I woke late the next morning, I checked the entertainment page in my newspaper to read about our opening night. As expected, the leads all got high scores and kudos. What stopped my heart was the write-up that I’d received. My name was pulled out of the cast and the critic gave me my own review.

Quirky, funny and she can dance. Candace Carteen adds charm and laughter to an almost perfect evening performance. A tried and true entertainer, she understands her character and puts all her weight behind it. No pun intended.

Over and over again I scanned the words. I’d been honored before, but this particular writer had been less than kind to me in the past. Something had changed in both of us. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t care what others thought anymore. Maybe it was because the critic now had a little girl that was chunky. Whatever the reason, we weren’t the people we were a few years ago.

After so many years of being bullied to be someone I wasn’t, I decided that being me was a great thing.

I think that’s true for anyone who is different and not perfect by society’s standards. I’d been bullied my whole life, starting in childhood. My own father refused to teach me how to golf because my boobs were too big. After so many years of being bullied to be someone I wasn’t, I decided that being me was a great thing.

If you ask my friends to describe me, they’d say I am empathic, caring, sweet, adaptable, loving, smart, charming, dedicated, financially in-tune and a great listener. That’s not bad. They’d also add stubborn, tactless, and bitchy once in a while.

Being who I am has made me who I am. Does that mean that I no longer hear the ugly words that sad people sometimes throw at me on the street? No. Does it mean that I’m able to forgive all of those who have hurt me in the past? No.

It means that now I can say to myself, “What others think of me is none of my business.”

That’s powerful. After years of self-loathing, I’ve learned that I’m the person I have to live with every day. All I can do is be the best me I can.

I’m never going to be Twiggy. I wouldn’t want to be. I want to be me. Curvy, funny, charismatic me! If you don’t like that . . . I don’t really care.

~Candace Carteen

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